The Informer (Monrovia)

29 May 2013

Liberia: They Will Execute Us First - Guinean Border Security Assures Liberians

Guinean security serving at their country's border with Liberia at the Ganta port of entry in Nimba County have vowed that never will their post serve as transit point for rebels or any group of trouble makers who would want to destabilize the current peace in Liberia.

"You people are our family and we are all one people; we will protect this border and nobody will pass through the border from Guinea to attack our family in Liberia..." Captain Salifu Camara, head of the Guinean border security team, declared recently when outgoing Public Work Minister Samuel Kofi Woods visited the border and crossed over to the neighboring country.

"When you people are in Monrovia, we are not talking about any other border or crossing point, but this particular point, any other person, be it enemy or bad person, that tries to cross here to attack our family, they will execute us first before they get to our people [on the Liberian side of the border]," he emphasized.

Border security has remained one of the daunting challenges facing Liberia and regional peace efforts. Liberia has one of the longest and most porous border points (reportedly at least 100) spanning across Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire.

The country's bloody 14 year of civil war witnessed rebels and insurgents crossing from its three neighboring countries, and after the war, ex-combatants remain threats to the region.

Violent uprisings and bloody civil conflicts have rocked all four Mano River Union countries, with former fighters almost always on the standby to cross over to another conflict.

The last one decade of unhindered peace in Liberia has been characterized by regular border tension with either Liberia or its neighbors closing their sides to prevent spillovers of internal clashes.

Joint border security operations efforts have been put in place, but not effectively working according security insiders. As the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) gradually folds up to leave, after 10 years, much more concern continues to hang around on border security and the general defense of the state as many are yet to trust the ability of the army that has seen a huge defection.

Successive UNMIL reports to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and to the Security Council, have highlighted the alarming border security, and the Liberian Government has said it is building rapport and alliance with its neighbors to ensure effective border patrol and security.

Captain Camara, during Woods visit, said they are aware that any conflict in Liberia would affect them in Guinea, and that they would do their best to protect the area. "We can assure you that this place is safe and will be saved," he said, adding, "as you are now in the Republic of Guinea, you life and the lives of all your delegation is in our hands."

Woods told the border guards that he crossed over to inform them about the pavement of the Monrovia-Gbarnga-Gnata-Guinea Border road, and to inspect the more than 50-year steel bridge over the St. John River that links the two countries. He said the project is in line with the MRU cross-country high way project.

Liberia's immigration commander at the Ganta border, Major Betty Benson, along with customs and police officers, escorted the outgoing infrastructure minister into Guinea. She said relations between the two sides were very cordial.

However, President Sirleaf is concerned, and attending the African Union Conference in Addis Ababa over the weekend, Liberia leader told Radio France International (RFI) that border security is a top priority of her government.

Peace and security throughout the West African region, particularly the Liberian borders with Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea, are a top priority for Liberia, she told an exclusive interview with RFI.

"I come from a region of fragility, and we've been having problems in West Africa, and so the report of the peace and security commission of Africa is very important to us," she told FRI's Laura Angela Bagnetto on the sidelines of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa.

Sirleaf had seven bilateral meetings with other heads of state on the sidelines of the summit on Sunday, including with the President of Côte d'Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara.

"We met and discussed the more recent development on the border, and what we both are doing, working with the UN peacekeeping forces in both countries to make sure we monitor the situation and address any chances of there being any escalation in attacks," she said.

Some 3,000 people died in Côte d'Ivoire's post-election violence in 2010, and a reported 250,000 displaced people fled into neighboring countries, including Liberia.

Liberia-Ivorian cross-border violence broke out in March earlier this year as three armed attacks forced villagers on the border to flee.

Liberian mercenaries participating in the fighting in Côte d'Ivoire had also contributed to instability.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which has been repatriating displaced Ivorians, said that the attacks in March had also temporarily disrupted return convoys along the roads leading to the border.

At the African Union summit, President Sirleaf said that direct discussions with her counterparts who border Liberia is key to preventing any escalation of violence.

"We've even just put some of our soldiers on the border just to reinforce our security agencies, to make sure that there are no major threats," she added.

In her meeting in Addis Ababa with Guinea Conakry's President Alpha Conde, she said she "talked about the potential that may happen on the borders between Liberia and Guinea. We're very much on top of it."

Liberia regularly meets with its contiguous countries that make up the Mano River Union - Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire, and Guinea. Sirleaf said that constant contact between security agencies in each of the bordering countries and telephone meetings with her regional counterparts has helped in reducing violence.

President Sirleaf said that she was also concentrating on development issues at the AU summit as one of the co-chairs of the post 2015 global agenda on Millennium Development Goals. "Those are things that are going to have very much relevance for Liberia," she said.

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